The controversy over two professors’ paper criticizing the power of the pro-Israel lobby came to campus when former U.S. chief of mission to Iraq Edward Peck spoke to about 20 students Monday about the perceived power of the Israel lobbying force. The talk was the opening event of Students For Justice in Palestine’s 2006 Palestine Awareness Week.
Peck’s comments blasting the pro-Israel lobby follow the controversy generated by an academic article written by John Mearsheimer, a professor at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Mearsheimer and Walt contend that the lobby – which they said includes newspaper columnists, neoconservatives, members of the Bush and Clinton administrations, Christian evangelicals and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – holds strong influence over U.S. foreign policy and has the ability to pressure politicians to support Israel, even when doing so is not in America’s best interest. Some have called the paper, published in The London Review of Books, blatant anti-Semitism, while others have applauded it for its ability to question the status quo.
“The power of that lobby is enormous, largely because no one has the guts to oppose them,” said Peck, a GW alumnus. “In this country, in addition to the people who feel the Judeo-Christian values that tie us to Israel . there is that fuss of the Holocaust, and then there is the lobby.”
Peck said it was the lobby that influenced the U.S. government to cease its peace talks with Hamas, the new political party that was recently elected to power in a democratic Palestinian election.
“Those people who support Israel . outnumber those who don’t, and they control the dialog for some reason” Peck said.
Israeli lobbying groups maintain that the U.S.-Israel relationship is healthy.
“Congress and the administration demonstrate that through American policies they are doing exactly the right thing for American foreign political interest, and exactly what is consistent with America’s national security interests and with America’s basic values,” said Josh Block, director of media affairs at AIPAC.
Peck received his MBA from GW and was an embassy officer in Sweden, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt, and a chief of mission in Mauritania.
Peck retired to become executive secretary of the American Academy of Diplomacy in Washington, D.C., and he served in a delegation monitoring the Palestinian elections in January 2006. He has published articles in several newspapers about the Iraq war, and more recently, about the Israel lobby.
Peck also touched on several other controversial topics including the war in Iraq and the Israeli settlements, which he referred to as constituting a “savage occupation.”
“In the Arab world, in the Muslim world, there are an awful lot of people who think American policies are wrong, and I happen to agree with them,” he said. “We have planted the seeds for catastrophe in the Middle East.”